Gardening: Southern star

When something looks good, everybody wants a piece of the action. And when something looks as good as Magnolia soulangiana, it's not hard to understand the urge to own your very own garden star.

FLOWER POWER: The stunning blooms of Magnolia soulangiana.

Everyone loves a magnolia but the vast majority of gardeners would probably think twice about growing one because of their reputation for being a tad on the difficult side.

Those superb flowers, many bursting out before the leaves, are guaranteed to bring a little warmth to the UK, which is far removed from their homeland of the south-eastern United States where they enjoy a climate only dreamed of this side of the Atlantic. Balmy evenings are few and far between in England; besides, some magnolias – particularly M soulangiana – are at their best in late March and April.

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The colours of the great waxy blooms range from pure white (Alba superba) to rosy red (rubra).

But M soulangiana has one big drawback – and that’s its size.

It may start off small, but given the right conditions and it will spread upwards and outwards until it’s no longer guaranteed to be flavour of the month in an average-sized garden.

And yet some parts of Yorkshire seem to have plenty of room – whole villages are packed with this elegant tree.

And as summer approaches, an even mightier magnolia is preparing to take centre stage. M grandiflora, which, as its name suggests, is something special.

It needs even more space than M soulangiana because it can reach 20 feet in height and spread to make room for its bright green leathery leaves and fantastically fragrant creamy-white blooms.

You’ll need a big garden but if you have the space and want to impress the neighbours – think Magnolia grandiflora.

Yes, there are smaller magnolias – M stellata, for example, which blooms in mid-spring, and the Sweet Bay, aka M virginiana. It is content to produce small cream-white flowers from June through till September. But what it lacks in size it make up for in fragrance.

All magnolias have several things in common – they like a fertile soil and a spot where the sun is likely to shine for most of the day. And they don’t like chalk around their roots.